Father, I cannot see your face, but I know you can see me. You see all your penitents’ sinful faces. My transgression is one of the worst in this village. Oh Father, you’ll certainly recoil if you hear this filthy sin I committed when I was in secondary school. But I will confess it to you because I have learnt the importance of being earnest. I committed this sin when Chimaraoke Mbadinuju was destroying Anambra State. I wanted to confess this sin to one Catholic priest named Emma through so long a letter I penned in 2004, after my uncles demise, but two things restrained me: Pride and prejudice.
I viewed the Roman Catholic Church through a wrong lence. It is horrible, this sin. It refuses to free me from its prison. It haunts me, it haunts my house, and it haunts my office. It even invades my dreams in the form of owls, hooting, flapping, deriding. But to kill the mocking birds, I cannot. My confidant Johnny asked me to wait, that time would help me get over this. And so I waited and waited until it dawned on me that I was waiting for Gordot. Then I came to you. Father, oh good man of God with sense and sensibility, pray for me. Pray for Mrs. Obioma…
Oh, hail Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners…
Oh Father, speak. Speak! Since Mrs. Obioma’s dismissal from Merchant–a school of scandal–I cannot fish my happiness back into my net.
What is this sin, you wonder, Father?
Oh, you will certainly yell in horror or stifle a howl, but I will confess this sin.
Father…Father? Are you still with me? Oh you are: I heard you cough…Please listen…I. Will. Be. Slow. Because. My. Heart. Is. Heavy…
When I was in JSS 3 class at Merchants of Light (or Venice, as I liked to call the school) when I was in this school located in my hometown of Oba, here in Anambra State, my 47-year old English teacher, Mrs. Obioma, told me that her husband had gone with the wind to South Africa for an academic conference. And when I, her Romeo in a crisp black and white school uniform, knocked at my Juliet’s door that frosty night, she pulled the door open, closed the door behind me silently, switched off the light silently, removed her clothes silently, removed my clothes silently, removed the novels on the bedclothes silently, turned up the volume on the Sony CD, and then we made love, our moans submerged in the music of Shaggy:
All the time she was standing there, she never took her eyes off me…I guess you are not into American pop, Father? Well, we did make noisy love, yes. Or fucked, as she liked to put it with a contagious smile. After having acrobatic sex, she would wash my fifteen-year old body in the detol-smelling bathroom and tease me about how my single thrust could suspend memory.
Then her egg-shaped face, which had the colour of fine chocolate, would drop into solemnity, and she told me that she wanted my love for her to be wider than the Sahara deserts and deeper than the ocean. She implored me to be indifferent to every Lolita, to all the girls at war because she was irreversibly in love with me. She implored me never to leave her and never let this romantic paradise to be lost, never to trample her poor heart in the dust, or break the heart like a wineglass, and I slobbered a kiss upon her powdered cheek and reassured her that instead of breaking her dear heart I would rather break my father’s television. Why should I do that to my sweetheart who speaks like a book and taught me to do likewise? This query tickled her and she giggled like a teen, like her enchanting twin daughters who were first-year students of anthropology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. And we fucked again in the bed, on the carpet, in the bathtub. Mrs. Obioma said that I was Oliver Twist in bed: I always wanted some more. And I told her that she was James Bond whenever I mounted her: fast and furious. And that was why I always wanted some more.
In the morning, I wanted some more: Electric Slide Style in the bed. Erotic Accordion on the carpet. V for Vixen in the kitchen. We had mastered all these sex styles from the Concise Couples she bought to improve our sex life. And the book did improve our sex life and we always wanted some more. When my knees began to tremble like a mango leaf in the wind, I pulled on my boxer shorts and told her that I did not want some more. She wanted some more, but she pulled on her Y-shaped pink panties and searched her bra. She joked that I should never swig alcohol like the Mayor of Caster bridge and sell her. Joked that I should be far from the madding crowd. Or did I want her to cut someone down with a matchet and hang herself like Okonkwo?
I cackled at her unflagging creativity and remarked that she would be my benefactress and her death would disclose my great expectations and I would be out of these hard times and fly to England where I could peddle our love stories in two cities and would only return to Nigeria if I became famous, to trade a tale of two cities. She smiled, and through the kitchen window, we watched the half of a yellow sun hidden behind the dancing avocado tree.
The first time I set my eyes on Mrs. Obioma, this book-obsessed English teacher, that’s when I was a soft lad in JSS One class, I did not imagine Mrs. Obioma’s heart to be violent like a harmattan wind whistling and bending a purple hibiscus. I thought that behind that exquisite farcade of hers lay a stone; or, to borrow her phrase, a heart of darkness.
Mother said that beautiful people are generally wicked creatures that make things fall apart. But Mrs. Obioma is the definition of beauty and yet she could hardly bring herself to make you feel no longer at ease let alone make things fall apart; she was a darling to me and to all the students at Merchants of “Venice”, Oba. Father, we loved Mrs Obioma with a love that was more than love.
The sun above resembled an overripe orange that Monday morning and colourful birds raced each other with joyous songs that did not unite in a synchrony.
Father, I was huddled in the tranquil greenness of the school field watching a troupe of colourful butterflies flitting over a row of red roses and brooding over the Principal’s wife’s derogatory statement against me during the morning assembly. She was on the teaching staff, but Father, that did not accord her the right to say that I probably did not have a penis, that I should be sent home, or perhaps to Girls Secondary School, Oba, because Merchants is a boys’ school, that my beauty was startling. Spooky. Devilish. Look at his slender hands. Sculpted nose. Rosy lips. Curly hair. And a voice like classical music. A boy, no! Impossible! A male teacher must help us take off his shorts to examine if…I am sure this boy is a girl?
“I heard the teachers mistook you for a girl at the assembly,” Mrs Obioma said, after I had greeted her and scrambled to my feet.”Yes, Ma”, I said, my eyes following a grasshopper on the grass. A fly dropped down on a dead lily in the field from nowhere. A red-headed lizard nodded its appreciation to God, and then scurried forward. But the fly buzzed and took flight. I did not look up to see its destination. The lizard looked at us, did a few press-ups to impress us, and then scuttled off.
“Look me in my eyes”, Mrs Obioma said.
I did not, could not, look her in the eyes.
She told me never to listen to those artless mongoloids that called me a girl at the assembly. Then, quite suddenly, she took my hand and walked me to the direction of her office, her turquoise gown flapping in the breeze. Upstairs in her book-filled office, she asked me if I was hungry for food. I said yes, and she gave me ten children’s novels. I wasn’t surprised. People said that books had made her a little crazy. I reckon The Maids Are Not to Blame was one of the novels, but I am not sure. She even furnished me with eccentric pens and eraser and asked me to go and read or draw President Olusegun Obasanjo to forget my humiliation at the assembly. But I did not draw Obasanjo because I did not like his face. I liked Mrs Obioma’s face, so I drew her instead.
The next day, during Break/Siesta, Mrs. Obioma invited me to her office, and when I came, she requested to see my drawing. Or the synopsis of any of the novels. But I did not tell her that I did not read any of the novels and I did not give her the picture. I could not. Father, I could not because I put too much of myself in that picture. I was afraid: my romantic feelings for this woman who was old enough to be my mother was evident in every shade and curve of the picture. I painted her face with my friend’s brown crayon. I painted her lips dark red with my best red crayon and my blood. (I cut my thumb with a razor and mixed the blood in the dissolved crayon). I took off her short black hair and crowned her with very long gold hair so that her beauty would eclipse the beauty of Water-mermaid in my fairy tale book, which, according to my classmates, was the most beautiful creature in the world. All my crayons and my friends’ crayons were used. It was my childhood masterpiece, the picture.
- I was promoted to JSS2 and Mrs. Obioma was still demanding for the private assignment.
“Nna, I really want you to sketch Mr. President or review any of those literary works, eh?”
“Yes, ma,” I mumbled. “The picture and the review will be ready next week.”
But that was the last time I saw her that year. Governor Mbadinuju did not pay the teachers and so all secondary schools in Anambra were drained of life. Elephant grass swallowed the classrooms at Merchants and hoodlums frequently converged there to smoke wee-wee and talk about football and sexy Oba girls. My friend Peter cried when my father came to take my luggage and drive me back to College of Education, Nsugbe where he worked as the Chief Executive Officer. I was crying in my father’s Peugeut 504 because I would never see Mrs. Obioma, my sweet English teacher. I wanted her to cry when I rang her up and told her that Dad had come to take me back to Nsugbe, but she did not cry. I cried and cried into my handkerchief. I wanted her to cry into her handkerchief, but it was only Peter who cried. He said he would miss me, poor Peter. I wiped his eyes with my tear-stained handkerchief and stumbled to my father’s car.
We arrived Nsugbe and Dad fascinated my brothers but peppered me by pontificating about how Mbadinuju had brought our great state to its knees and how Bakassi boys were slicing people like Ofoma bread and roasting them like yam. I faked a wild yawn, but Dad did not shut up. I yawned again and closed my eyes. In my dream, I saw Mrs Obioma scampering toward me with a smile in the garden. We hugged, my chest crushing her breasts. I woke up shivering.
“You take Mrs. Obioma as your mother or what?” Peter asked me, one hot afternoon when he visited me here in Nsugbe from his father’s house in Onitsha.
“Yes,” I said. “She’s like a mother, and I have drawn her pictures. I think they are twenty one. Do you want to see…”
”No”, Peter said with a force that startled me. “God forbid, no. Her pictures can’t be beautiful because she’s old. But if I grow up I will still be beautiful–like Mr. Okeke, our Maths teacher. Mrs. Obioma is old and she is mad.”
We were seated in the living room, our heads facing the Carton Network on the Panasonic TV Dad brought home from the 2001 Chapel of the Holy Spirit bazaar. The smell of curry wafted from the kitchen and filled our nostrils.
“She doesn’t even know how to teach and she’s old.”
I turned my face to the TV. “Peter, look at what Tom is doing to Jerry–ha-ha-ha!”
“Mrs. Obioma, the old bitch, said she would leave corrupt Nigeria for America…”I turned sharply to Peter, frozen in amazement. “What? What, Peter? Why did she want…?”
Peter laughed without mirth. “It’s a joke. But, Oh God, you love that woman!”
I did not talk to Peter again until Mother gave him pocket money and asked me to see my friend off.
“Farewell, Peter,” I said to him when the bus started.
“Bye, Nna.” He circled his arms around me and I wriggled out of his embrace because he was heavily perfumed. “I will miss you, Nna. But you will miss Mrs. Obioma.”
But Peter stood there staring at me with moist eyes as the car honked impatiently. “That woman is old, Nna,” he said, and climbed into the L300 Mitsubishi bus.
I hurried home, locked myself in my room and closed my eyes. I touched myself, thinking about Mrs. Obioma. Can this be forgiven, Father?
- The strike was called off…nine months later, I think. And Mrs. Obioma was still at Merchants of “Venice”!
She hugged me, covered my new crisp uniform with compliments, and asked me to take a seat. I sat down in her new swivel chair and then–finally–I gave her the picture I drew sixteen months ago. And for what seemed like eternity, she stared at the “masterpiece”, her mouth forming the letter O.
“Oh my God!” she cried. “You’re only fifteen, Nna, but you are Da Vinci. Leornado Da Vinci reincarnated. I wanted you to draw President Obasanjo, but you drew me! Wow, I am fla—“
“I like you, madam.”
Awkward Silence. Then she said, “It’s good to like your teachers and neighbours as the Bible teaches…”
“I love you, madam.”
Her eyes bulged. I waited. The ceiling fan blades sliced through the air, ruffling the files on the desk. The almanacs flapped against the peeling wall and, above the rattling window, a fly buzzed with monotonous regularity. “Don’t talk like that, Nna,” she said, her voice soft and sad. “Now, you can go to the field and play football with your classmates.”Ah, Father! I was crushed. After that day of love confession, Mrs Obioma’s eyes avoided mine. Peter looked happy again; he drew nearer to me. But I told him that I wanted to draw nearer to my English teacher. “She’s a witch, Nna!”
I said nothing. The Principal’s Volvo thundered into the school just then, raising clouds of dust, the black smoke its exhaust expelled enveloped two female teachers who were prattling about the hostility of Governor Mbadinuju. “I bought this ice cream for you,” Peter said, shoving it into my face. “It’ll calm you down, my dear. You look distraught. Take it.”
“I detest ice cream, Peter!”
“Please…it’s for you. Take it. I hate to see you looking sad.”I reluctantly took the ice cream from Peter and left him standing there like a television pole in front of the Main Building. I strolled over to Mrs. Obioma’s office and offered her the ice cream. She grinned at me and placed it in a salver on the desk. And we talked about the stories in my books and drawing and painting and the beautiful flowers the Principal had cultivated. Before I withdrew, I made her roll her eyes by telling her that those flowers were really beautiful, but she was more beautiful than them, the flowers, and I was like the butterflies that hover over them in the sunlight. She did not close the door when I turned to leave.
There was an awe-inspiring rainbow in the sky the day Mrs. Obioma agreed to be my lover. “You are a good boy, Nna,” she said, her head in her slender hands. “I wanted to accept you a long time ago, but…but…Oh God, help me.” She had begun to cry softly. Three weeks later, she intimated to me that her marriage was a failure because:
- Her husband only had sex with her whenever he, not she, wanted, and he never made her reach her orgasm (what’s orgasm? I wondered then?)
- Her husband thought that sex is something a woman gives a man at her loss.
- Their lovemaking is perfunctory and the egghead hates flowers and literature and paintings and “all those inefficient shits”. (He’s inclined to pontificate about the history of China and how the Berlin Conference of 1884 has ruined Africa).
“It is a mistake, the marriage,” she told me amid tears after our first lovemaking. “I love sex, Nna. Sex is very important in a marriage. And I love art, but he’s different. My parents forced me to marriage him when I was only sixteen, you see.”
We were naked in her bed. The blanket was drenched with our sweat. “I’m sorry,” I muttered because there were no other words in my mouth. She asked me if I had shagged a woman prior to shagging her. Father, I wanted to lie, but I nixed the idea. I told her about Lucy, the eighteen-year old Igala girl, whom I fucked in their parlour when her parents went to the farm. I told her about Chinenye, our landlord’s daughter, who preferred to brush her mouth with my dick in our uncompleted building at Third Gate Side. I told her about the lass from Girls Secondary School, Oba. Esther. She introduced me to this sin, at thirteen during the long strike.
Father, no one–except Peter, of course–suspected our affair, albeit she usually took me into her artistically furnished bedroom after school. For a lunch fuck. And book discussion. Peter complained that I don’t play with him anymore; he said that Mrs. Obioma was the reason. I laughed.
I always laughed whenever he whined.
Then one day Mrs. Obioma asked the students to call me. I dropped the novel I was reading and dashed to her office. She was crying.
“The Principal knows! He knows! He has found out, Nna!”
My heart, which was pounding because I had been running, now accelerated, because I was afraid. I was afraid for my English teacher. “God, how did he know…?”I began.
She paced up and down, saying, “Your friend Peter told him and the Principal began to monitor us. God, I think it’s the Principal who captured us with a camera. We did not draw this curtain last week we were kissing and touching right here. Oh my God!”
Father, guess how it all ended? You can’t? Well, Mrs. Obioma was eventually fired. Peter finally apologized to me; he swore that he did that to Mrs. Obioma because” I think I like you. I can hardly live a moment without you, Nna.”
I had been naive. Now, it was obvious. My doubts had been wiped clean like a whiteboard. I know what Peter was and what he wanted from me.” Peter, I’ve never seen you with a girl. Are you a…”
” Yes,” he interrupted.
I wailed and went wild. “Is that why you ruined my English teacher!”I shouted and shouted until people gathered outside the school gate. I told them that Peter liked boys and that was why he told the Principal that Mrs. Obioma, whom they all knew now, was “molesting” me.
Okada men said that Peter looked like a girl. Many of the students complained that Peter liked to kiss boys in the hostel. And that did it. I would never see Peter again. In a second, stones and rusty tins and planks and rocks rained on him from all directions and he cried in agony. The poor lad was killed like Stephen. Because he loved me. And I loved a woman who’s perhaps older than my mother.
- Now, each time I think about all these tragic end of my English teacher, my lover, and Peter, I stagger to the window and wept. I refused to wipe my tears because their stories ended sadly and nothing happened to me. The Vanguard newspaper said:
The schoolteacher in Anambra, who was molesting, her naive fifteen-year old student was finally caught. The little boy claimed that it was he–not his teacher–who was the molester. He said he chased and chased the old lady before she yielded. But he couldn’t be serious. Reliable sources claim that he was sick in the head.
My mother was the only one who was on Mrs. Obioma’s side. She tossed the paper into the lavatory basin, shouting, “That is rubbish! The lady was seduced by my queer son! Is it because she’s a woman? If it was an adult man who seduced a schoolgirl, the case would be different. Male chauvinistic bullshit!”
Father, ask God to forgive me and Peter and Mrs. Obioma. I destroyed Peter and that woman and yet God kept blessing me. I am now a successful writer, but Mrs. Obioma, the woman who taught me English and made me study English and Literature in the university lost her job and eventually died of stroke. Father, I deserve to die like them or fail in life as a penalty, but God has been so wonderful to me. He blessed me with a good job at Anambra State University and gave me a good woman whom I will soon marry. Father, why is God still blessing me?
Bio:Esomnofu Ebelenna is from Oba, Anambra State. He read English and Literature at the University of Nigeria. His stories have appeared in African Writer, DNB Stories, AGNI(forthcoming), Storried, Genius Blog, and elsewhere.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org